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«Authored by: The AAS Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA), with endorsement from: National Society of Hispanics in Physics - ...»

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Increasing the Number of Underrepresented Minorities in Astronomy at the

Undergraduate, Graduate, and Postdoctoral Levels (Paper I)

An Astro2010 State of the Profession Position Paper

March 2009

Authored by: The AAS Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA),

with endorsement from:

National Society of Hispanics in Physics - David J. Ernst, Pres. (Vanderbilt University),

Marcel Agueros (Columbia University), Scott F. Anderson (University of Washington), Andrew Baker (Rutgers University), Adam Burgasser, (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Kelle Cruz (Caltech), Eric Gawiser (Rutgers University), Anita Krishnamurthi (University of Mary- land, College Park), Hyun-chul Lee (Washington State University), Kenneth Mighell (NOAO), Charles McGruder (Western Kentucky University), Dara Norman (NOAO), Philip J. Sakimoto (University of Notre Dame), Kartik Sheth (Spitzer Science Center), Dave Soderblom (STScI), Michael Strauss (Princeton University), Donald Walter (South Carolina State University), An- drew West (MIT) UW Pre-Map staff - Eric Agol (Faculty Project Leader), Jeremiah Murphy, Sarah Garner, Jill Bellovary, Sarah Schmidt, Nick Cowan, Stephanie Gogarten, Adrienne Stilp, Charlotte Christen- sen, Eric Hilton, Daryl Haggard, Sarah Loebman Phil Rosenfield, Ferah Munshi (University of Washington) Primary Contact Dara Norman NOAO 950 N. Cherry Ave Tucson, AZ 85719 dnorman@noao.edu, 520-318-8361 1 Increasing the Number of Underrepresented Minorities in Astronomy at the Undergraduate, Graduate, and Postdoctoral Levels


If the ethnic makeup of the astronomy profession is to achieve parity with the general population within one generation (~30 years), the number of underrepresented minorities earning graduate degrees in astronomy and astrophysics must increase in the coming decade by a factor of 5 to 10.

To accomplish this, the profession must develop and invest in mechanisms to more effectively move individuals across critical educational junctures to the PhD and beyond. Early and continu- ous research engagement starting in the undergraduate years is critical to this vision, in which the federally funded research internship programs (e.g. NSF REU, NASA GSRP) and national cen- ters/observatories play a vital role. Regionally based partnerships with minority-serving institu- tions (MSIs) are crucial for tapping extant pools of minority talent, as are post-baccalaurate and/or masters degree “bridging” programs that provide critical stepping stones to the PhD. Be- cause of the strong undergraduate physics, engineering, and computer science backgrounds of many students from MSIs, we suggest that instrument development and large scale computing/data-mining are particularly promising avenues for engagement in the coming decade.

1. Statement of the Problem The underrepresentation of minorities is one of the major challenges facing the US science and engineering workforce as a whole (see, e.g., the National Science Board’s 2003 report, The Science and Engineering Workforce: Realizing America’s Potential), and is more challenging still in the disciplines that sustain the astronomy and astrophysics enterprise1. Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans comprise 27% of the US population but are less than 4% of the astronomy

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5 4 3.0% 3 2.0% 2 1.0% 1 0 0.0% 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 00 01 02 03 04 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 19 20 20 20 20 20 1 By “astronomy enterprise” we mean Astronomy and related fields that include Physics, engineering and computer science. See the section on “Enhance recruitment through physics and engineering”.

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workforce2. The nation’s astronomy and astrophysics PhD-granting programs today collectively produce approximately 5±1 minority PhDs per year, an average per PhD-granting institution of 1 minority PhD every 10 years (Stassun 2005). Thus, at the same time that physical sciences PhDgranting programs in the US are increasingly turning to foreign students to make up the PhD ranks3, these domestic pools remain largely underutilized. These same groups comprise 2.5% of physics and astronomy faculty at colleges and universities, and 0.5% of the physics and astronomy faculty at research institutions (statistics from AIP, Nelson & Lopez 2004).

Unfortunately, the relative representation of these groups in astronomy and astrophysics has been steadily worsening. The fraction of minority PhDs has been roughly flat at 2-4% of the total (see figure above). However, during this same time period, the proportion of underrepresented minorities in the U.S. population grew by 33%, from 20.9% in 1988 to 27.0% in 2008 (data from US Census).

Estimates by the AAS Employment Committee find that on average 75±15 permanent astronomy jobs open up in the U.S. every year. Thus to achieve parity in the number of minorities entering the stream of permanent astronomy and astrophysics positions, the community must in the coming decade increase the number of minority PhDs from 5 per year to 20. And if the same attrition rates apply to these individuals as in the field overall, this number becomes 50. Thus the absolute number of minority PhDs produced annually must increase by a factor of at least 5-10 in the coming decade. At this aggressive pace, the field overall can achieve parity in 30-35 years.

It is moreover essential to realize that this scale of PhD production cannot be achieved by the current community of minority astronomers alone. A recent survey of all 50 astronomy PhDgranting programs counted a total of 17 individuals who identify as underrepresented minorities among the full-time faculty (Nelson & Lopez 2004). Increasing the number of minority PhDs to the levels required in the coming decade will have to be the purview of the entire astronomy and astrophysics community.

2. Solutions Below we focus on practical solutions for increasing the participation of minorities in the Astronomy enterprise that can be achieved within the next decade. The solutions presented here can be implemented on short timescales because they tap into pools of students who are already at or near the required academic levels. These solutions can move us in the right direction quickly. At the same time, achieving fuller equity not only requires earnest and sustained commitments from academic/government institutions and funding agencies, but also a more active engagement in Keducation from the astronomical community to see students through to these critical academic levels (see associated Position Paper on “Increasing the Number of Underrepresented Minorities in Astronomy through K-12 Education and Public Outreach (Paper II)”.

Develop meaningful partnerships with minority serving institutions (MSIs) MSIs (i.e. Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges) produce large pools of talent at the undergraduate level in the physical sciences and engineering. The top 15 producers of African American physics baccalaureates are all HBCUs.

2 Throughout this report we adopt the definition of underrepresented minorities used by the federal funding agencies.

3 In 2004, physical science PhD programs in the US awarded 9 times as many PhDs to international students than to domestic African American students (Diversity and the PhD, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 2005).

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The graph shows comparisons between underrepresented minorities (URMs) and White/Asian students, based on different permutations of the educational pathway to the PhD. An equal sign indicates degrees earned from the same institution. The fourth and sixth comparisons from the left show the “traditional” paths to the PhD, in which the student earns the bachelors degree from institution A, and either receives both the masters degree and the PhD from institution B or else forgoes the masters degree entirely. The fifth comparison from the left is shown the case for earning the bachelors degree at institution A, a “terminal” masters degree at institution B, and PhD from institution C. Minorities are much more likely to take this latter path than non-minorities. Adapted from Lange (2006) based on analysis of 80,739 PhDs earned in science and engineering fields, 1998 to 2002.

the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge program (with funding from NASA MUCERPI and NSF PAARE) through which students use the MA degree at Fisk as a stepping stone to the PhD at Vanderbilt through collaborative research projects at the two institutions.

(Program details can be found at www.columbia.edu/cu/vpdi/bridge_students.htm and www.vanderbilt.edu/gradschool/bridge and in the Appendix4.) As promising as these programs are, long-term sustainability remains a concern. Not all programs are institutionalized, and even those that do receive significant institutional support must still rely upon substantial federal funding (see, e.g., the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge or the PreMAP program financial support information, both in the Appendix). Funding for these programs from the federal agencies has in almost all cases been explicitly limited in duration (i.e. no competitive renewals). The requirement of “exit strategies” for successful and innovative programs is counter to the clear needs of the profession for the human capital that these programs produce.

The funding agencies should take a more balanced approach toward seeding untested initiatives 4 Appendices for this paper can be found on the AAS CSMA website at http://csma.aas.org/events.html

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while also providing the opportunity for stable support of the most productive and innovative programs.

Geographic partnerships Potential partners should not only be aware of, but also take advantage of, the strong geographic concentration of MSIs. HBCUs are predominantly clustered in the Southeast, HSIs in the Southwest, and TCs in the Northwest/Midwest (see maps and lists of MSIs in the Appendix). To the extent that minority students may in some cases be “location bound” for familial, cultural, or other reasons, regionally based partnerships may be particularly effective at successfully recruiting, retaining, and transitioning these students (e.g. Stassun 2003). Indeed, most of the partnerships discussed by Sakimoto & Rosendhal (2005), including those specifically mentioned in this report, have a regional basis. However, not all successful partnership programs are regional. For example, the NSF Center for Integrated Space Modeling links Alabama A&M and Boston University.

Finally, we note that partnership programs of the type discussed above need also to be developed to address the transition from the PhD to the workforce. Some successful programs in academia exist (e.g. the University of California Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows program). The National Centers and Observatories are in a position to play an important role here as well. For example, the NASA Co-op program identifies individuals early in their graduate careers and tracks them into permanent civil servant positions. Similar approaches could be explored by the National Observatories and other centers that support tenured positions.

Enhance recruitment through physics and engineering as on-ramps to astronomy Of the ~100 HBCUs in the United States, only three currently offer a formal astronomy curriculum at the undergraduate level—an astronomy minor in all cases5. No HBCU offers an astronomy major. However nearly all of them offer the physics major, and many offer engineering majors including computer science. While a degree in physics has traditionally presented a clear path to an astronomy career, engineering skills are clearly needed to meet the future science goals of US Astronomy.

The development of next generation instrumentation for large telescopes and space-based missions will require technical expertise which includes engineering and design, systems management and proper administration of projects (Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millenium, NRC 2000). It will be advantageous to the astronomical enterprise to both engage traditionally trained engineers and to also train engineers to have expertise in astronomy. For example, the LSST FaST program (funded by NSF/DOE) involves faculty and student teams from MSIs in the design and development of LSST software and hardware.

The increasing importance of theoretical large scale computation for simulation, dataintensive surveys (such as LSST), and data-mining infrastructures (such as the Virtual Observatory) require computer savvy astronomers who might be tapped from the ranks of computer science graduates. Thus these more non-traditional majors represent promising avenues for engagement of students with these disciplinary backgrounds into the astronomical enterprise in relatively short order.

5 Fisk University (Nashville, TN), Southern University (Baton Rouge, LA), South Carolina State University (Orangeburg, SC).

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In parallel with direct outreach to faculty and students in these “on-ramp” disciplines at MSIs, the astronomical community should also support the hiring of faculty with astronomyrelated interests in these same institutions' on-ramp departments. Whether a condensed matter experimentalist with an interest in detector development or a computational theorist specializing in compact objects, such individuals help expose students to astronomy opportunities (such as REU and graduate programs), help bring those students to the attention of the larger astronomical community, and serve as obvious points of contact for establishing horizontal and vertical partnerships as described above.

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